MIAMI — Could apps replace real estate agents in 10 years?

That was one question posed by a journalist to a panel of listing portal representatives at the National Association of Real Estate Editors’ spring conference.

“That type of forecast really underestimates the role of an agent,” said Homes.com President David Mele. They’re not just an “information conduit.”

And he would know, he added: “I’m married to a Realtor.”

Other speakers offered similar endorsements of real estate agents and claimed warm relations with the industry. Their comments reflected a desire to make it clear to reporters that their property search websites are partners to the industry, not replacements for industry players.

When asked about how Zillow gets listings, Errol Samuelson, chief industry development officer at Zillow Group, said that the listing portal has “always had a really strong relationship with the brokerage and franchise community.”

He also brought up the progress that Zillow has made with acquiring listings directly from multiple listing services. The portal has signed direct listing feed agreements with 300 multiple listing services in the last six months, he said.

Some panelists also affirmed the sovereignty of real estate agents over listing content.

Luke Glass, executive vice president of platforms at realtor.com operator Move, considers real estate brokers to be the “authorizers” of listing content and MLSs to be the “warehouses.”

Mele noted that the real estate establishment has launched some initiatives aimed at helping agents and brokers gain more control over the distribution of listings.

He seemed sympathetic to that aspiration.

“What we need to do is earn their right to distribute those listings,” he said.

Real estate agents will increasingly serve more as advisers rather than data providers, panelists said. And new business models, they added, may put downward pressure on commissions.

But all the panelists agreed that agents will retain an important role in the marketplace.

Owners.com, which recently relaunched as a national brokerage, provides support from in-house agents to consumers because they often need guidance with making offers, negotiating and drawing up contracts, said Eric Eckardt, vice president of online real estate at Altisource, which owns Owners.com.

No app is going to replace agents; their role will just continue to evolve, Glass said.

Mele said Homes.com wants to reinforce that role.

“Let’s deliver that transaction-ready consumer to the local real estate agent and broker,” he said. “It’s really all about return on investment for them.”

Cynics might think that panelists were pandering to their firms’ advertisers, said Shaun White, vice president of public relations at Re/Max LLC.

But he doesn’t think that was the case.

“They recognize the fact that real estate agents are critical to this business,” White said. “I don’t think they were exaggerating.”

Email Teke Wiggin.


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